A hands-on comparison of the digital materials from manuscript collections of Beirut, Nablus, Jerusalem, and Riyadh.
Digitization projects have been taken up by manuscript libraries around the world. The two pillars of such libraries -catalogues and the actual holdings- are undergoing a process in which they first become available digitally, usually for a fee, then they become available online for viewing, sometimes for a fee, then they become available for download, at which point the fee may be dropped and access is granted gratis. Let us take a closer look at the different qualities of these pictures to 1) better understand what we may expect and 2) see if we can come up with certain preferences.
This post does not focus on one collection but rather gives a brief impression of several collections.
File Size Original: 402kb
Dimensions Original: 1280 x 1737
Particular Folio: MS 160, f. 2b: Sharḥ Hidāyat al-ḥikma
Evaluation: Although file size comes close to what we would desire, the photo is taken professionally with good lighting and a good cut around the manuscript, I would say this photo is not good enough to use, especially for the glosses. It is somewhat out of focus and does not nearly provide the desired level of detail.
File Size Original: 3.2mb
Dimensions Original: 5521 x 3828
Particular Folio: MS Arab 590, ff. 7b-8a: Ḥāshiya Sharḥ al-Tahdhīb
Evaluation: High-resolution, professional picture of which little is to say. Could we have this for every manuscript, please?
File Size Original: 5.8mb
Dimensions Original: 4344 x 4240
Particular Folio: MS 259, ff. 1b-2a: Sharḥ al-shamsiyya
Evaluation: The file size is huge and we do not get that much for it in return. Perhaps these digital files were created from a microfilm? There is a terrible amount of noise in the pictures, making too much unreadable. Perhaps useful as a comparison manuscript, but surely no sane person would work from these files alone.
File Size Original: 149kb
Dimensions Original: 2160 x 1440
Particular Folio: Impossible to know. It is a two-page spread.
Evaluation: A great many manuscripts from Riyadh have been scanned and are freely available online. The poor quality of the photo together with the fact that there is often no metadata available makes usage limited. For certain tasks this poor quality is not insurmountable. Even the text of the manuscript displayed here is legible to some extent.
Origin: Riyadh, King Saud Library
File Size Original: 662kb
Dimensions Original: 2083 x 2695
Particular Folio: MS 6955, ff. 27b-28a: Sharḥ Hidāyat al-ḥikma
Evaluation: A pulled this manuscript as well from the internet, also from Riyadh and with a very different quality. It comes with a watermark, visible on the right. Lighting is poor and quality is lacking, but it is at least a lot better than the previous picture and I knew the MS number.
Here is the full picture of the last MS, showing at the top how they kept the manuscript open while photographing.
This post merely gives an impression of what is out there and the conclusion is that quality varies greatly. Some manuscripts are digitized professionally but then still look not so good (Beirut). Much material is barely usable, putting into question whether we will have to digitize these manuscripts again at some point.